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Guide to the mammal species of Southern Africa

Cheetah - Acinonyx jubatus
Travel Writer: EcoTravel Africa  

The lean and agile cheetah with its slender body is built for speed and has the honour of being the fastest mammal on earth. Reaching astonishing speeds of up to 80 - 100 km/h it can outrun most of its prey but it usually cannot maintain the chase for more than 300m. One will often see a flash in the bush before you realise it is a cheetah in full flight, back flexed and limbs extended it is airborne for much of its stride.

Photographer: EcoTravel Africa 

Their inability to hunt stationary prey was evident when I witnessed a coalition of four males fail to kill an adult male warthog in the Pilanesberg. The on and off hour-long circus was most amusing, with the warthog doing most of the charging and certainly being responsible for all the noise!

Cheetahs have round spotted coats and are tall and slender in form, with long elegant legs and tails, a relatively small head and deep chest. One of the cheetahs clearly distinguishing features are its are its "tear stripes". The claws are semi-retractile.

Cheetah are most often found in open woodland, savanna and semi-desert. Having an open area for hunting has always been considered necessary yet in the Kruger one finds cheetah in most the eco-zones including the almost impenetrable Delagoa Thorn Thickets! Whether this is due to population pressure and being in a fenced in reserve is debatable.

Cheetahs were once found throughout Africa except for forest and mountainous areas. They are almost exclusively found in Nature Reserves and in some cattle ranching areas of Africa. Namibia has the largest population of reserve and free roaming animals.

The cheetah call is a birdlike cheeeap, which is used for calling members of the coalition or cubs. The catlike purr is reserved for families and coalition members.

Females are usually found alone or with her cubs yet the males will most likely form coalitions of 2 to 4 members.

Cheetah are not restricted to a breeding season yet some populations do show a preference to a optimum time of year. A cheetah litter usually consists of three to four cubs. The slightly longhaired and smoky mantled cubs resemblance badgers is said to be mimicking the notoriously fierce badger. The cub's vulnerability to attack from other predators necessitates that the mother constantly moves her family.

The future of the cheetah is vulnerable. Even a large park like the Kruger National Park has only 250 cheetah. Free roaming cheetah are shot by farmers and poachers and their free roaming status is only accommodated in a few areas. The many new private nature reserves have done much for the protection of this most graceful cat.

More facts about Cheetahs

Kruger National Park (South Africa)
Pilanesberg National Park (South Africa))
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Mammals of Southern Africa    >> Printable List <<
Wildlife - Fauna & Flora of Southern Africa

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Learn more about the Cheetah - Acinonyx jubatus with Wildlife Campus. Course content includes in-depth information about Cheetah habitat, spoor, droppings, ecology...

Wildlife Campus offers many courses including: Field Guide Courses (FGASA); Game Ranging; Wildlife Management; Photography; Astronomy...

Southern Africa has many top Game / Nature Reserves, and is home to many of the mammals of southern Africa. Numerous wildlife safari and tour companies operate guided tours to Southern Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in Southern Africa include: horse riding safaris, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding, wilderness walking trails, science safaris and volunteering especially for GAP year students.
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